Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Common goals... in Vermont education

I worked with a group of 50-ish great people today in Berlin, VT to dive into what Open Education Resources ( #goOpen ) could mean to Vermont education.

I was tasked with presenting to the group at days end... summarize discussions that took place during the day and cast ideas on how to move forward.

It's a lofty challenge, actually. 

It's not just about #goOpen (Open Education Resources). It's about how to fit many, many gears together. What's preventing something like #goOpen from moving forward?

Here it is, the speech and slides... in all it's oddity ; )

When I think Avengers... I think superheroes.

Many teachers and administrators are superheroes in their schools and districts. There are many superheroes in this room. Innovators. Leaders. People who strive to make things better in education.

But... Superheroes get different priorities. Superheroes have strong opinions. Different perspectives on what's important. And then, in some places comes...

How many initiatives does your school have?

I just did a consulting job with a school that had, at the same time... 23.

Yes... lot's of head shaking going on. Sounds painful, right? People were (are) disillusioned, disenfranchised... and the important 'dis'. Disinfected... people bow out. We've all heard the phrase before... "I just shut the door and teach."

PD gets fractured in many directions. Agendas start competing. People take sides... or don't. And the number of initiatives starts piling up. Fatigue builds... and we lose focus.

This effect also reminds me of...

For those unfamiliar... Game of Thrones is an HBO series... with a huge following. One main theme from the story... different factions throughout the land start fighting and competing against each other.  Everyone is trying to rule. Resources get divided. Energy gets split up. Casualties... well, casualties in Game of Thrones are, um, extreme... but let's focus on the larger picture here ; ) Divided... things start falling apart. We lose sight of the big, important picture.

In both the superhero world, and in Game of Thrones... much energy is wasted in different and fractured agendas... and the big picture, the bigger challenges are lost.

Bigger challenges...?

In the superhero realm... the galactic destroyer, Thanos is coming (upcoming movies will tell this story. He's... well, he's mean. Very mean. The Avengers Infinity War movies, parts I and II will tell that story. The superheroes, and their different initiatives are bickering and this bigger danger is... growing.

In Game of Thrones... Everyones fighting to rule the land... and they are almost oblivious to the fact that... the White Walkers, the Undead are coming. They intend to destroy the world of the living. Yup... that's a big problem. A 'zombie apocalypse' sort of thing.

Superheroes. Divided.

Kingdoms. Divided.

Common challenges... no focus on them.

Hey... it's the end of the day... and I've never been accused of being 'uncreative'!

So Avengers... or Game of Thrones... stand up and move to the side of the room that...

Just kidding! (For those who weren't there... we did some exercises like this to help us explore some important questions, important bias).

In Vermont education we have many, many different priorities and initiatives... and groups.

These groups all do great work! Individually. Some common goals cross over... but sometimes they don't. Initiatives get fractured. The list of priorities builds... and it gets tough for schools to keep the bigger picture in mind. Who do you gravitate toward if you're a school? Everything. Is. Important... and initiative hell in schools grows.

Act 46 is a good example of how, when communication doesn't happen... bad things happen.

(For those who don't know what Act 46 is... legislation came down on schools implementing spending caps that were not in sync with school budget planning cycles. Schools adjusted best they could. Cuts and layoffs took place and many facility improvement plans were cast aside. Emergency meetings. Stress. Then the legislature changed the spending caps. Many town budgets had already been posted and couldn't be adjusted. Some tried. Some succeeded. Some... didn't.)

Summarize all this?

We need a common goal.

Here it is I think.

Act 77.

A personalized learning plan for every student. Time table of implementation that achievable.

An incredible goal, really. Something different than.. business as usual. Incredible potential.

it's State legislation... but it's implementation is all. over. the. place.

Schools are approaching this in Vermont... all over the map. Some well. Some incredibly well. Some... not so well... or barely at all.

Why though?

What does this Act 77 'initiative' mean to many teachers?

Teachers in many schools suffer from this... initiative hell.

I see many people here nodding their heads in agreement. You've heard this before. Lived it! Yet... many people in the room... are still superheroes ; )

Act 77... it's another initiative.

So how do we fix this? What's the root of the problem to make these changes in schools?

Let's try a little David Jakes-esque (it's his slide below) design thinking at this.

If we... discover, in our own schools what are teachers feeling? Students? Administrators? Parents?

Then we define... What are our drivers here? What do we want to do? What's our bigger (unifying) goal?


  • great citizens? 
  • great personalized learning plan systems to allow kids to explore interests at a much deeper level?

What's the constraint here? Why can't this happen? What are the root problems exposed?

I think the answer to that question in MANY school is... 


Well, it's actually, lack thereof.

A couple others... that result from 'time.'

PD time... is too infrequent!

We don't have enough time for initiatives so... we need to focus them to a few.

We need to change how we converse. What is the 'language' of our schools? How do we communicate with each other, with our students? With our communities?

We need an axis for this conversation, a center of gravity.

I'd offer that this is a great one.
This... can provide an axis, a center of gravity, a sense of purpose for these discussion and initiatives.

These (above) are just ideas from what I've heard today and what I've been thinking about.

By 'fix contract language' I mean... what if sharing and collaborating with peers was an expectation? What if every district twas clear about teacher resources being shared with peers, with the school, and perhaps... others like in OER?

If you can leave here today... and start this design thinking process discussion (thanks, David) at your school... you can get the conversation started on 'real' teaching and learning goals. We can start to focus.

Now for our part... VITA-Learn. How can we help?

Here's what we do, currently.

We host regional meetings throughout Vermont. Free PD (and food at all our Regional meetings) at a place near you!

We host two major conferences per year... VT Fest in early November and Dynamic Landscapes in May each year.

We also host a website... which is about to shift from 'information' to storytelling.

We do our best to fire up collaboration and resources via PD on tough issues and promote innovation.

Here's what we can do.

We can call on the leaders of all these organizations in Vermont... and ones not listed (sorry if you're organization isn't listed, I built this from the groups developing thoughts through the day today). We can get them around the table and discuss...

Open Education Resources is a great initiative. Teachers as authors. As publishers. Sharing. Growing. Collaborating. Building... free resources. Free intellectual property.

How do we get to more meaningful implementation of Act 77, OER... of collaborative teaching?

We can run some design thinking processes... to discover, define constraints... and get on to meaningful testing.

It's going to take...

  • a serious discussion about how we handle time in schools, how we value teaching and the goals within it. What changes to we need to make to really get there? How can we actually... make those changes?
  • superheroes... who raise the discussion at schools and show people value
  • each group in #vted (Vermont education)... discovering how we can better work together
  • and a resolve to fight initiative hell. To, as Diana so eloquently put it... "reinvest in the profession of teaching and learning."

My first thought is we do this at Vermont Fest 2016... and also build it into a panel discussion ; )  We'll start bouncing ideas of when and how.


"PLPs (and OER)are not a 'tech' problem. It's a school culture and method problem."

That's another great quote from Diana, too. Diana''s amazing. Pull the lever and out comes another great simple summary of a complex problem.

Hopefully something like Act 46... won't happen again. We can sit, talk, and be informed of school needs. We can define goals and change contract language, change our use of time, and our approach... toward collaborative.

I'll be in touch shortly (after the end of the school year... everyones busy!) and start feeling out a time to get people from each group around the table and begin.

So I'll end with a quote from 1958.... from Edward R. Murrow. This isn't about technology... Naviance, blogs, Google Sites, Amazon Inspire... it's about how we use it.

It just so happens, incredibly.... that Edward R. Murrow's son, Casey, is in the audience here today. Casey is one of our superheroes interested in how we can get this meaningful discussion on OER and it's incredible potential into schools.

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box.

Edward R. Murrow
RTNDA Speech, 1958

Finding simplicity takes hard work sometimes. It takes clarity of thought.

I see incredible potential in Act 77, and in Open Education Resources. We've got to change some approaches... or it'll all be more adds into a big, big pile.

My thanks to Kristina Peters, Andy Marcinek, Diana Laufenberg, David Jakes and Peter Drescher for inviting VITA-Learn and me into this work... and to be part of this great opportunity.

Everyone in this room can help. Rebecca Holcombe (VT Secretary of Education) too. Dan French... in his new role with St Mike's too... and the leaders of all these great organizations in Vermont Education. 

Like many of you... after three days of the Dynamic Landscapes conference and this event today... I've got some wood chopping to do all about the end of the school year... and then in a week or so I'll be digging into this conversation again.

Keep being superheroes. Let's keep innovating. Let's build this into bigger discussion. let's get people on the same page and get some of these incredible opportunities... less constricted. 

Thanks everybody!

We win!

Note: Apologies to the VT ASCD for not including them in the picture! You'll be called upon though to participate! ; )

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Love to see your district send a team to our event this summer ( where I hope to convene a conversation and do some work around these issues.